Chiropractor Dr. Jimmy Yuan disarms pro athletes with humor and a fix-it approach to pain.
Dr. Jimmy Yuan doesn’t wear a white coat or carry a stethoscope. His office isn’t cold and sterile. Yuan shows up for work in his daily uniform of comfy pants and a black T-shirt emblazoned with his cheeky motto, “We Love You Strong Time” (inspired by the catchphrase from the 1987 classic Full Metal Jacket).
“It’s my way of having a little fun with it,” he says. “No one is going to wear my shirt if it says Blah Blah Chiropractic. That’s so boring!” Yuan treats one patient at a time in a small, two-room office strewn with exercise equipment and quirky knickknacks like a bobble-head doll of Vince Masuka, the Asian lab tech from HBO’s Dexter.
Yuan isn’t afraid to play up his Chinese heritage for comedic effect, describing himself as “the most interesting Asian in Maricopa” on Twitter. Not because he’s particularly remarkable, he says, but because there are so few Asians here. “It’s a slippery slope, since I’m super proud of being Chinese, so I try to tread carefully,” Yuan says. “My friends and family crack up about it.”
His sense of humor and quick-fix approach to pain has made the 41-year-old chiropractor popular with locals and a cadre of celebrities. Check his social media accounts and you’ll see Yuan with A-listers from rapper Ludacris to golfer Jon Rahm. “Say what you want about pro athletes, [but] I’ve been blessed. My guys (and gals) are great. They call, they text if they’re running late,” he says. Rahm messaged the doc from Dubai to wish him happy birthday.
There’s no miracle story in Yuan’s background. He wasn’t a star athlete who got sidelined by an injury. He didn’t have a life-changing experience with a chiropractor or a best friend with severe scoliosis. When he was growing up in Queens, New York, Yuan’s parents offered three career options for their only child: lawyer, doctor or accountant. While not sold on any of these stereotypically Asian careers, he wasn’t opposed to them. “I didn’t have a calling,” he says. “I just happened to be good at those subjects, and I hadn’t crossed those careers off my list.” Yuan shadowed several chiropractors while in his undergrad program in psychobiology at the State University of New York at Binghamton. He realized that these doctors were what he wanted to be – not only successful, but likable.
“It wasn’t love at first sight,” Yuan says. “They were just interesting people, and their patients really liked them.” One of his early mentors was a professor with six practices and a fancy car. When Yuan asked the instructor what his secret was, the man replied, “No bullshit. Just [expletive] fix people.”
Yuan was stunned, not just by the crude delivery of the statement but by its simplicity. Patients didn’t necessarily want the details of their condition. They just wanted to get better. From that point on, Yuan had two professional goals: Fix the problem and talk to patients on a level they could understand.
Now Yuan relates to his patients more like friends, and knows every single one of them by name. He’s there to cheer on their successes and help them weather tough times. “My patients and I have cried together when they have loved ones passing away or going through disease. I consider it an honor that they actually share that experience with me in here,” he says. While medical school encourages doctors to remain objective, Yuan says he performs better when he’s connected to his patients.
After graduating from New York Chiropractic College in 2001, Yuan was courted by chiropractic firms in Austin, Northern California and Arizona. Then 25, Yuan was torn between staying in his home state and venturing west. His answer came from an unlikely source. After interviewing for a position in Phoenix, the newly christened D.C. (Doctor of Chiropractic) opened a shipment of Netflix DVDs and found Raising Arizona, along with several other films that featured the state. “So I figured I should come here,” he says. “I knew I would be content in New York. But I didn’t know if I’d be happy there.” Yuan still has the ticket stub for his plane ride to Phoenix on January 8, 2002.
He gained a reputation for solving chiropractic problems quickly and, in 2010, he opened a private practice called Warrior Restoration. Yuan is a certified kettlebell instructor and lectures nationwide on functional movement assessments that can help patients determine exercise goals. The irony is that Yuan hates exercise – despite the fact that he personally trains with kettlebells, practices taekwondo and regularly leaves the office midday to work out at a local gym. “I don’t enjoy it, but it’s still a piece of who I am,” Yuan says. “I try to set an example for my patients.”
Yuan met Spencer Tatum, national performance director of Advantage Training in Scottsdale, while hosting exercise workshops in 2009. Tatum was impressed with Yuan’s speed at diagnosing pain. “Instead of having patients come back over and over again for the money, he’ll fix you fast,” Tatum says. According to Tatum, who also works with professional athletes, Yuan’s relatable, upbeat personality helps him connect with famous clientele. He doesn’t ask for autographs or name-drop. “Pro athletes are all just human,” Tatum says. “They have to feel safe with you, because they trust you with bodies that are sometimes worth millions of dollars.”
In the world of sports medicine, the line between medical professionals and trainers is blurring. Yuan works with Titleist Performance Institute and the Arizona State University women’s golf team, utilizing the latest research in exercise science to help athletes improve performance. This could mean lifting kettlebells for muscle strength or working their core for flexibility.
Missy Farr-Kaye, head women’s golf coach at ASU, says team injuries have decreased and driving distances have increased since Yuan began working with them. “He is on the cutting edge of the science behind the best training,” she says. “There is better synergy between the coach, strength coach and medical staff. When we all work together for the athlete, are on the same page and communicate well, the athlete thrives.”
Asked if he would ever consider expanding his practice to include trainers or other physicians, Yuan jokes that there would be a deadlifting requirement for every staff member. “No, seriously. I will not in good consciousness have someone who I work alongside give recommendations on exercise if they don’t actually exercise,” he says.
For now, Yuan is happy to be solo. When he meets a new patient, he hands them a shirt from the stack of trademarked logo gear in his closet. If his celebrity wall of fame is any indication, “We Love You Strong Time” is in NFL locker rooms, on pro wrestlers and probably even in Ludacris’ dresser drawers. “I enjoy having fun, and I want all of my patients to laugh here, famous or not,” he says. “This office is my playground.”
Dr. Jimmy Yuan’s Instagram account is a who’s who of pro sports. It’s “pretty much like treating anyone else,” he says. “Athletes may have slightly higher performance needs… but generally they have the same base.”
A snapshot of his celebrity clientele:
Bertrand Berry, Karlos Dansby
Common conditions: Torn ACL or meniscus (knee), lower back pain, shoulder injury
Treatment: Pain management, stretching, exercise
Cole Hamels, Dontrelle Willis
Common injuries: Rotator cuff tear, ACL (knee)
Treatment: Pain management (ice, electricity or heat), joint mobilizations, adjustments
Marcus Morris, Grant Hill
Common conditions: Tendonitis, shin splints
Treatment: RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation), improve motion, manual adjustments
Daniel Bryan, Brie Bella
Common conditions: Wrist sprains, overtraining
Treatment: Pain relief, establishing regimen balance